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UNC President Emeritus William Friday begins the first part of Biographical Conversations with an endearing recollection of his parents. His father was a bookkeeper in a textile company. In addition, he was mayor for the town of Dallas. His mother loved and taught music, and Friday talks about the musical instruments that he and his siblings played. He then describes Dallas, a small town near Gastonia, where he grew up. Some of his opinions about issues were formed during this time, as he first became aware of segregation when he was playing baseball in high school. Friday also recalls his experience with growing up during the Depression and how it affected not only his political affiliation but his attitude about life in general as well.
Friday then talks about his brothers and sister and the relationship they had. In addition, he explains the importance his parents placed on education.
While his father wanted him to study law, Friday wanted to make a career out of baseball. Friday discusses his college years and why he chose Wake Forest and transferred to NC State, called State College at the time. He talks about some of the class offices he held called State College at the time. He talks about some of the class offices he held while attending and about meeting Frank Porter Graham, for whom he later worked, and Ida Howell, whom he married.
His marriage to Ida and his entrance into World War II as a plant operations manager in a naval ammunition depot are his next stories. Friday talks about how his experiences in the war shaped his sensitivities later. He ends this segment by discussing his attitude towards African-Americans and segregation during the war.
Part 2: University Life
Part 2 opens with William Friday's recollection of his experience at the University of North Carolina in the office of university president Frank Porter Graham, president of the university. He speaks openly about the challenges of President Graham's job and about his impressions of Billy Carmichael, who worked in UNC administration. Friday then discusses President Graham's appointment in Washington, D.C. and Graham's eventual brutal Senate race against Willis Smith. During the race, Friday, who was still assisting the new president of the university, tried to keep the university out of the mudslinging that occurred between Smith and Graham.
Gordon Gray assumed the presidency after Graham left for Washington. Friday admired Gray as much as he had admired Graham, but he stated that the two presidents had very different styles. Gray created a position of secretary to the president and appointed Friday to it, so he would be named the acting president when Gray left. During Gray's tenure, he advocated for three major pieces of North Carolina's history: public television, Research Triangle Park, and the Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC). Gray stayed in the presidency for a relatively short time, only 10 years, after which Friday became the acting president.
The selection committee for the UNC presidency eventually offered Friday the position, but at a price: he had to accept an assistant that they would choose. He declined the offer, but they offered him the position again without that stipulation, and he accepted. So at 36 years old, William Friday became the president of UNC in 1956. He had also begun a family, so the position was a great challenge to him.
Friday's presidency indeed had some significant challenges. One of his first major issues as president was the point shaving scandal at UNC before the Dixie Classic. Friday made a decision about the Dixie Classic that won him stark criticism. Then in the early 1960s, Friday campaigned against the Speaker Ban Law and finally had to initiate a lawsuit to get the ban repealed. In 1968, the Black Student Movement presented a list of demands. Governor Bob Scott offered to send troops to the campus if the situation turned into rioting, but Friday rejected his offer.
Friday also talks about his impressions of and his experience with President Lyndon Johnson. He also recalls his efforts with John Gardner in establishing the White House Fellows program, a program which allowed college students to work in assistantship positions with the President of the United States. Soon after that Gardner offered Friday a position as assistant secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare that Friday refused, but Friday regretted his decision later.
Friday's involvement in the Carnegie Commission on the Future of Higher Education led to two other major achievements in North Carolina's educational history: gaining more federal funding for student aid in Pell Grants and establishing the Area Health Education Centers. In addition, he managed to influence the National Humanities Center's decision to locate their offices in Research Triangle Park.
Friday closes by discussing his efforts to desegregate the universities but to maintain the traditionally black colleges. While Friday's opinions were not popular and also sparked much criticism, he maintains that the balance in education helped the white schools but helped the black colleges keep their sense of culture.
Part 3: University & Beyond
In the conclusion to Biographical Conversations, William Friday begins by reminiscing about his retirement from the presidency of the university. He then discusses the several opportunities he had to run for public office--and why he ultimately decided not to pursue them. As a result, he presided over the William R. Kenan fund, after chairing a statewide commission on literacy. Because of his involvement in literacy and education, he reorganized the Trust to help people, especially single mothers, gain their high school equivalency and qualify for a job that will pay for their living expenses. Friday was very concerned about poverty in North Carolina. He remarked in one instance that North Carolina should not tolerate having children live in poverty. He and his wife visited a homeless shelter one night, an experience that Friday says will live with him forever and one that reminded him of his own childhood circumstance of poverty during the Depression.
The direction of college sports is another issue dear to Friday's heart, and he says that some of the trends have concerned him. Recollecting his own decision to withdraw from the Dixie Classic after the scandal of point shaving, he feels that the university is a place for students to develop a sense of moral accountability as well as an education in theories and facts. He talks about the efforts of the Knight Commission to restructure the NCAA, and cites examples of universities that play sports with honor. However, he expresses concern that several universities have relaxed some of their standards based on the amount of money they feel they can draw in.
As a public figure, Friday has come to know several of the political representatives of the last 50 years. Terry Sanford and Jesse Helms were his classmates, and Friday talks about his relationship with both men, as well as his working relationship with Governor Jim Hunt. On the national front, Friday reveals his opinions of Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton, focusing his assessment on their leadership in education as well as their character.
Friday also talks about his relationship with his wife and children and the lessons he learned while dealing with his daughters' education. Out of his love to educate and his desire to give all North Carolinians an equal opportunity at education, Friday pioneered North Carolina public television, UNC-TV. He reveals some of the early challenges of broadcasting from a small television station that had no ability to tape programs or show then in color and his search for quality educational programming. Out of his search grew the idea for North Carolina People. Friday lists some of his more celebrated guests on that show and his experience with the first show.
After revealing his personal regimen of exercise and relaxation, Friday discusses his opinion about what the university should do for its students, his vision for the future of North Carolina, and what he hopes have been his own contributions to North Carolina and to people in general.